Film Reviews
Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber

Senegalese writer/director Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s “Banel & Adama” burrows boldly into the conflict between a couple’s choices and societal customs. Set in contemporary times in the remote northern Senegalese village of Futa immersed in Muslim tradition, nineteen-year-old Adama rejects his culturally designated position as tribal chief, a role incurred by the death of his elder brother Yero.

Adama and Banel, the deceased Yero’s second wife, resist villagers’ pressure, preferring to dig out by hand two houses outside the enclave and completely buried in sand, a powerful metaphor for the devoted, passionate couple’s attempt to escape prevailing beliefs and challenge tradition. However, their community suffers  a severe drought. The rains don’t come, cattle die. Villagers blame Adama for his heretical repudiation of the chief’s position and Banel’s refusal to conform to women’s roles: doing laundry and tilling fields. Most egregiously, the inflexible, rebellious Banel makes clear that she doesn’t want to have children. Pressure mounts.  

Strong performances by Khady Mane as Banel and Mamadou Diallo as Adama sustain tension. Moreover, this conflict comes to vivid life through Armine Berrada’s vibrant, gorgeous cinematography, striking compositions and vivid color enriching the scenes early in the film, enhancing interior and exterior locations. Lighting segues to washed-out colors as disaster develops. Nature intrudes throughout, the most stunning a huge, hundred-year-old twisted tree. The sound also complements the interaction, with birds, animals, and rustling leaves becoming increasingly quieter.

In press notes, writer/director Ramata-Toulaye Sy says she “wanted to write a great tragic love story; a story in which everyone could recognize themselves.” In essence, she wanted something universal with touches of magical realism. Sy has succeeded in combining poetry with social critique in a haunting, beautiful film. In Fula and French with English subtitles, “Banel & Adama” screens at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium Friday, July 12, through Sunday, July 14, at 7:30 each of those evenings. For more information, you may visit the film series website.

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